tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera February 11, 2015 9:30am-10:01am EST
data. we have sensors infrared cameras, so we are going to master old critical reentry atmospheric reentry phenomena. >> you can keep up to date with all the day's important stories and a lot more on the website aljazeera.com. com. rosie perez was three years old when her schizophrenic mother put her in a catholic children's home where she was often abused. >> i had to physically fight back or else, you know, my ass was going to get kicked. >> the oscar nominated actress's new book explains how she overcame odds? >> i felt like i was always acting, always escaping into different realities.
>> how a fighting spirit and humor helped her survive? >> i was ham and cheese served on a platter. >> i recently spoke to her in new york. the book starts out with your early years, with your tia, your all the, who you loved and who took really good care of you. at some point, your mother, who you didn't realize was your mother, comes and gets you from tia's house and puts you in a catholic children's home and that's when you first started experiencing abuse. the book is filled with so many painful stories it's hard to recount all of them. how difficult was it for you to go back mentally and recount paper? >> the good thing is, is that i have done the hard work in regards to going to get help, to seeking therapy. i had thought because i was successful and i had a lot of money, i had a great career, that i had risen above all of
the issues. and i realized probably around in my early 30s that i had not. so, prior to writing the book, i had done extensive sessions of therapy because i didn't want my past to win. i wanted to reap and enjoy all of the benefits of life and all of my efforts to have a great life. so, when i sat down to write it, was it difficult? yes. there were days where there was a lot of crying. there were days where there was a lot of laughter. human does run throughout the book despite the terrible stories you are telling me. the abuse in the early years was really strikeing, abuse from your family, abuse from some of the nuns in the convent you were sent to as a toddler. you were three years old. did it feel sometimes like everyone that was supposed to be
you? >> no. there were certain people that were supposed to be taking care of me that were hurting me. but as a child, i just -- everything was very clear to me. it was confusing at first. who is my mother? who is my aunt? why am i here? who are these people with the funny scarves on their heads. >> the nuns. >> the nuns. but once i started to assess the situation and, i was like, okay. so there weren't all -- it wasn't a place for everyone that worked there, all of the nuns, priests, counselors were bad and abusive. there were a handful of them. but there were some really great action wonderful family. so i didn't view life like that plus i had my aunt in my life and my cousins who were sisters. i call them my sister-cousins
and, you know, i think that those three years with my aunt helped me understand that there is good love out there, and i special. >> those times with your all the are the real bright spots. >> yes. >> the story of your childhood. but there are then there are the types with sister renata, and there was one day where she slammed your head repeatedly against a locker. and you called her evil incarnate in the book. was she just the prototypical strict none or as sadistic as she seems to be? >> i think she was a little bit more sadistic than the standard strict nuns. she went overboard. >> was there one particular incident besides the locker incident that stood out to you that would exemplify what it was like being in that
convent? >> well, one time me and the girl that i called crazy cindy, we were in trouble so we had to clean the entire bathroom at six years old. when i mean the entire bathroom, it's a bathroom in a home for children. so there are about six sinks, and there is three bathroom stalls and three to four shower stalls and then the entire floor. so, we were there for a good part of the day, and cindy had gotten the could have syrup. we found the could have syrup. back then, it was mostly alcohol. so we got tipsy and we turned on the radio in the bathroom that we weren't supposed to turn on and i was like a temptations and then i was -- you was the pips and she took gladys knight. by that time, sister renata comes in, starts screaming and yelling at us, tells us to hold
out our hands and we did and she proceeded to whack them and told us to turn them over and whack them again to the point where it was cracking and blood and the stinging, and it was so hard and terrible, the pain, and then she had the gall to say, now, go back and finish cleaning, and i said, with what? our feet? da-da-da. it was crack. she smacked me across the face and backhanded. it was, i think, about three or four slaps so it was adding insult to injury. then we had to go and clean the bathroom. and the girl, crazy cindy started cursing, and sister renata thought it was me. so, i had bloody hands. they are stinging. i am trying to not touch the soap because it's burning and she takes the soap out of my hands and sticks it into my mouth. >> you were success.
>> i was six. part of my personality is i couldn't stop laughing because while she is shoving it in my mouth, i am noting and there are bubbles coming out of my nose. so, i couldn't stop laughing. so like, you know, and i told this woman -- i called this woman crazy. comeback? >> right there. the timing was impeccable. >> you were always a ham. >>ists a ham. no. i was not a ham. i was ham and cheese served on a platter. i was ridiculous. >> tell a few crazy -- tell us who crazy cindy was. >> no one has asked me about her yet. so that came a little bit as a shock. she was my best friend, my c confidan confidante, my little angel. >> crazy cindy plays a really >> yes. >> she is a girl that in some ways, you seem to look up to. >> absolutely. >> because she is brave.
>> yes. she was very brave. i don't know if she understood how brave she was because she was kooky. but she had an audacity to have fun and to take chances and risks at a very high cost. >> you write about how she was institutionalized and went through electroshock therapy. >> that was a rumor. it was rumored that she did, she went through that. but she came back. and she was not the same person. >> and we should say that all of the names were changed in the book. right, to protect identities. crazy. you called your mother, crazy many times in the book. you described beatings from her as well, the verbal and the physical abuse. was she ever diagnosed as mentally ill? >> she was diagnosed as mentally ill and yet they still did not
take her parental rights away because they viewed her as being responsible by putting me in a home, even though i was in a loving home. my father's sister. >> you mean in tia's home. >> in tia's home, yeah. you know, but, you know, initially i used to think that she was just extreme, that she had this extreme personality. and then, by eight or nine years old, i was like, no, she is crazy. and i didn't know. illness. i just said she is crazy. and other people would confirm it to me, thinking it was funny. and there was nothing funny about it. there is nothing funny about mental illness. >> when you were a child, did you feel like rejected by her? do you remember feeling that? >> duh, yeah. yes. absolutely.
from day one. from day one. her. >> from the day i could remember her, i felt rejected by her. from her leaving me in the home, you know, for her treating me differently from my other siblings. it's, you know, for her not taking me back and people would always ask me: why would you want to go back? and that's the crazy yoonamic. >> that's the crazy yoonamics that exist with the abuser and the person being abused. you know, especially a child and their parents. you want your parent to love you. you want your parent to love you. you know, after awhile, after they beat you down so much, you want them even more. and that's very, very difficult for people to understand. but it is what it is. it is that, and it was very true for me. >> what's so strike to go me is how you always had this sense of what was right and wrong. how did you not suck om to the
pressures that were around you? what must have been peer pressure in some cases. >> i never felt any peer cindy. >> to get in trouble. >> but i don't know how i can explain it. it's just that i always thought i was special. and it wasn't an arrogance. it was a knowing and it was there is a life out there, and i am just doing time. and i am going to make this time work for me. i am going to do everything right so that when i get out of this existence, out of childhood and into life as a young adult, i want all that it can offer, and i want to take advantage of all that it can offer. so, therefore, i had tunnel vision in that respect. it's: do you want to go get high? no. do you want to go hang out with boys? no. no.
>> was part of it also when you write this so after you leave the convent, you go to a group home and you are actually excited about that. and you write about how you sort of got this moral code from that. was there a silver lining to being, you know, in the system as you describe it in the book? >> yes. you know, when you talk about, you know, the issues of child abuse and the foster care system and being award of the state, there were -- policy means everything. >> what do you mean? >> policy means everything. there was policy changes that the nuns couldn't hit us anymore. there were policy changes that allowed us to get a job because upstate, it was so much premming dis, if i went to go get a job, the only job i could get was, you can rake the leaves in front of my lawn with the ceta program with president carter allowed me
to have a real job and get a real paycheck at the age of 12, 13, 14. >> that's fantastic. so, when we were going to the group home, they told us all of these things are going to be available to you. i was beyond excited. and i was -- the most excited i was about was that there wasn't going to be a damn none around. yay, god bless america three times. just that. that was subsidized by the state of new york. i know people thing about, you know, they call it social welfare and taxpayers' money to help the poor. yeah. it's not my fault i was born into poverty. >> and it worked for you. >> it worked. and it gave me a fighting chance. yes, i was a child of poverty. i was a child of the system. when i we want to go live back with my family in brooklip, i was a child of welfare. i was a child, you know, of this or that.
and certain policies allowed me to better myself because i wanted better and i knew i was better, you know, and it's not like we are like, oh, poor me. can i have a handout? no. can you just help me a little bit and i will do the hard work. >> that's what i mean about policy. it's fantastic. >> do you think there are enough social safety nets today and those same things for children that height be in similar situations? or do you think that's somewhat being disassembled? >> it has somewhat been disassembled. i mean here we are in a group home upstate new york right next to the ibm country club estates. not too shabby. you know, and i am privy to the middle to upper middle class lifestyle. is that here today? no. there are so many cut backs. >> what child today can go get a job that's subsidused by the government and they can have a paycheck and learn how to have their own bank account and so
on? it's not there. what has gotten better is child protection laws. >> has gotten better. what hasn't gotten better is the certain rights of the children of the child. excuse me. for instance, i see so many children because of bad relationships because of hurt feelings and scorned lovers being ripped away from their parents or one parent, you know, becoming ven dictive towards the other and the child is in the middle and then they get thrown lost. >> kind of thing has not gotten better. i think it actually has got ina little bit worse. >> we are talking to rosie perez. she has always been a fighter. coming up, hear what she through at soul train host, done cornelius.
america" we are talking to actor and coriographer rosie perez. >> you were into watching television as a kid like the jackie gleason show. you really liked old movies. you liked listening to all kinds of music including the beatles. is that when your interest in entertainment sort of began as a in? >> no. my interest in entertainment began with music. my aunt said i used to trans in my crib non-stop and i loved when my cousins would clap for me. it's embarrassing. >> you loved being a performer. >> as a baby in the crib, but, yes, television provided something else. it was pure escapism, you know. i still love television to this day. it's one of my favorite past times. >> shall shows do you like. >> i watch a lot of boxing. it's a metaphor for life.
boxing is a sweet science to hit and not get hit. i was doing that from day one. >> sometimes you would physically fight back. >> yes. well, i had to physically fight back or else my ass was going to get kicked. it did a lot. i got tired of it, so i learned how to box. i learned how to fight. school. you fought back against the nuns and got in a fight with do corneliusuos on "soul train". >> that was a clue i needed help because, you know, i thought i'm so together, i am in college. i am going for my major in bio chemistry. i am wapitiastic, you know, i am on "soul train." and if you just pressed the wrong button, it was like pow. just a nuclear explosion would occur in me, and that's what happened with do cornelius. he turned me and pulled me and yanked me inappropriately, and i freaked out.
and i just started swinging and started grabbing things and the first thing i grabbed was a piece of kentucky fried chicken. it was a low point. i was beyond embarrassed. i was still walking out with this pathetic bravado like i don't care. i don't care. by the time i got in the car, i started crying. i felt like an idio. >> you threw a chicken wing at don cornelius's forehead. wrong. i thank you goodness we were able to make up before husband passing. way before his passing. and, you know, but that's what i mean. it's like am i really enjoying my life? if i am this person holding on to this anger from the past, am no. >> do you think the temper was innate in you? was that something you had as a circumstances? >> you know, my therapist told me that it was probably -- probably became a part of me
once my mother gave me away. >> the anger? >> the anger. and that was when i was a week old. >> have you ever fully come to grips with that? >> yes. >> or is that something that still rises in you sometimes. >> it still rises in me, but i have learned to control it, and i have learned to modify it. you know through the references through cognitive therapy, behavior modification is a beautiful thing. >> it seals you had some luck, though, later on. at least when it came to your career. you started by choreographing >> yes. >> which is huge. >> it's huge. i was so excited. >> how did that even happen? i mean did you have formal dance training, or was it just all of those nights that you described clubbing with your cousins? >> the nuns. >> the nuns? >> the nuns i have to give them credit. they put me in tap. they put me in tap from day one. they told me i had talent. i was the lead bunny in the
you know. >> i bet you were adorable. >> i was. with my yellow higher and pot belly, i was so cute but it was the nuns that started it off. but it was mu love of dancing and always being in the nightclubs and, also, being a person who always seemed like they were part of things but really was standing on the outside watching. and that's how i learned how to choreograph. >> that's how i knew what would be hot and what would not be hot. i can gauge, you know, the pulse of a club very, very easily. and so when that opportunity came, i took it. >> you proceeded to work with every major name in hip-hop at that time. were you easily accepted into intimidating? >> no. it wasn't intimidating to me. it was very frustrating.
the massagony was disgusting. the way they treated women was appalling and probably is still appalling. and, you know, but i just wouldn't -- i refused to be denied. i was like excuse me. those are your issues. you have to get over it because i want to get paid and i want to do this dance number and i want to work with this person. so, i am going to go for it. >> you were later discovered in an nightclub by spike lee. you are from brooklyn. he is from brooklyn. you get this major role in "do the right thing." how much of that performance was any? >> i think it was deroofed from my life from me observing all of the traps that a lot of girls fell. you know, of looking for the valuedation outside of the home, of early teen pregnancy, frustration of not getting what you want out of life knowing
that you deserve more but not having the wherewithal to go get more. and for metion my personal life of, you know, spike was like, i need you to get really angry right here. i go, that's a walk in the park. disposal? >> i had it at my disposal. so even though yes have, you know, an acting lesson in my life, i, you know, i felt like i was always acting, always protecting myself, always escaping into different realities. so it was surprising to me how easy it was >> i have stephanie knee cy. we are talking to actor and coriographer rosie perez. we will have more in just a
yet i still have fantasies of finishing my degree and, you know, it's i still fant sues. i am a nerd. >> you work with kids in the urban arts partnership. tell me about that work and how much of that is you sort of addressing some of the needs that you had in child hood. >> that's 100% addressing the needs i had in childhood. i see these title i kids meaning low, poverty, high-risk kids being ignored in school. these kids who can take on the world, be our next president, be the head of, you know, apple. they could do all of these things, but they don't have access. they don't have opportunity. and i want to do anything that i can to help provide that access and opportunity and, also wering
just to validate them and say to them, you are really smart. you know, you don't have to let your circumstance dictate who you are as a person because i see right inside that you are not that. >> so it's not just about art. it's really about you being able to work with these kids one on one and sort of share with them? >> as much as i can, yes. and to tell them, you know what? you could complain about your situation all you want. when you become an adult, the world does not care. so what you need to do is find solutions to your complaints. >> at the end of your memoir, it becomes clear that another thing you want is to sort of set the record straight. this is your story. >> yes. >> what else do you want this book to accomplish? >> i want it to say many things. i think first and foremost, to say that there is a certain group of people here in the
united states that are thought as less than just because they were born into poverty. and it's not right. and it's not fair and it's not true. and i want those people to understand that they need to push through all of that, push through all of their fears and didn't dos and stuff into their greatness and claim it because right. >> it is a riveting and inspiring memoir. thank you so much for talking to al jazeera. >> rain pryor >> everyone wants to be that thing... and i'm not that thing i'm like hello... i'm me... >> surviving a chaotic childhood >> i'm like dad... they're hookers in this house... >> ...and breaking free and following her own path >> when you come to a show of mine... someone in that audience didn't like what i just said... >> every sunday, join us for exclusive... revealing... and surprising talks with the most interesting people of our time... talk to al jazeera
part of our special black history month coverage on al jazeera america >> announcer: this is al jazeera. ♪ and it's good to have your company for this al jazeera news hour i'm david foster and this is some of what we'll be looking at in detail in the next 60 minutes. as many as 300 migrants feared dead in the mediterranean after trying to reach europe. just two dangerous, the u.k. and france follow the